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Career changing Legal Promotions Writing

Swag for Independent Writers

Swag

Do you like swag?

Swag for Independent Writers | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
Swag for Independent Writers.

So, swag is necessary when you go on the road. Work a convention at a dealer’s table, or get your book into a library, and you may need a little extra something to give away. Hence here are a few choices.

Bookmarks, a Very Common Form of Swag

Maybe the best and closest kind of giveaway item is the humble bookmark. In one sense, it’s perfect because it relates directly to books and reading. And you can spend as much or as little as you like. Plus maybe you only want something straightforward, perhaps a section of your cover, often printed on one side on heavy cardboard stock. And that’s great!

Because you’ve got some real estate, consider some additions, such as your website or even a QR code for a discount off one of your books. However, I suggest leaving one side blank for notes. While that’s not strictly necessarily, it may end up cheaper for you, not to mention it having an actual purpose.

Bookmarks are particularly useful because not only can you put them in your own books, you can put them in library or bookstore books. Yes, they might be removed and discarded. However, you need to consider that these are loss leaders; you need to be ready to lose some cash on these.

Business Cards

These seem hit or miss. If you go to conventions and run a table or booth, you will need cards. And again, try to keep the back blank. Pro tip: use matte. Shiny card stock costs more and it makes it harder to write on the card. Because you want people writing on your cards. Oh, and don’t be stingy with them. Give them away. Meet someone? Give them a card. Someone stops by your table? Give them a card. Like bookmarks, these will be discarded by a lot of people. Accept that as a cost of doing business.

Tee Shirts

These can work really well if you have a fantastic and memorable cover design, or a great catch phrase. Imagine a tee shirt which has your cover on the front and your catch phrase on the back. You can make people into walking billboards this way. Be ready to give a lot of these away, and maybe even use them as contest prizes. Most people will not purchase these unless you become really famous. Again, this is a cost of doing business.

Toys and Action Figures

Funko Pops lets you design your own male and female characters. But volume is an issue here. And so is the startup cost. The blank figures in that link are almost $10 apiece. Hence a large run of these may not be in the cards – so take advantage of their rareness and play on the scarcity aspect when giving these away or selling them.

For other types of action figures, look at prices and consider what you want to settle with. If the figure doesn’t end up looking a lot like you, how will that make you feel? If the answer is ‘terrible, of course’, then you might want to do something else with your swag budget.

Swag: Some Takeaways

Giving away swag may seem counterintuitive. After all, you want to make money, rather than spend it. But if you are new on the scene, it can be a great way to get noticed and show how you’re different from all the rest.

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Career changing Covers Legal

Working With a Cover Artist, Part 2

It’s Time for Working With a Cover Artist, Part 2

There is more to the engaging of a cover artist part of working as an independent writer than just selecting an image or giving them an idea of what you want. Working with a cover artist involves some paperwork.

Working With a Cover Artist Should Mean a Contract

A lot of us get nervous talking about contracts and copyright and that is completely understandable. They seem difficult, complex, fraught with meaning, and all-too final. It feels like a prenuptial agreement sometimes – don’t you want to have faith that everything will work out all right?

Eh, not so fast.

This is not your great love (even if the cover artist is a friend or a relative). Instead, this is about rights. Your rights and the rights which belong to the artist.

The question is: who owns what? Without getting into the minutiae of copyright law just yet, this site offers not only a decent basic breakdown of the law in the United States, but also a good basic contract for a free download.

Are you all set now, and just have to fill in the blanks and you’re good to go?

Not exactly.

Cover Artist | Book cover basics | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
Book cover basics

Read over the agreement. If any of it does not make sense to you, talk to a lawyer! Even those of us not specially trained in copyright or contracts law can generally dope out an agreement. Further, in the US, you have got to have competence in Contracts Law in order to pass the Bar examination. It’s a basic part of the Multistate Exam. Hence even your friend the real estate lawyer should be able to answer your basic contract questions.

One Quick Tip

For the part of about State, County, and State, you want to write in your own state and county or parish. Why? Because if a lawsuit comes down, you will be a far happier person if you get to go to the courthouse in your county, instead of one potentially on the other side of the country. It will be far less expensive, and you will be far more likely to exert your rights if you feel they have been violated.

Second Quick Tip

Introduce the idea of a contract before the cover artist does anything. Make it clear you won’t engage them to do the work if the agreement is not signed, but also give them an opportunity to look it over and make changes to it (e. g. they might agree to a different-sized format, etc.). Note: this agreement is rather artist-centric. They probably won’t have much of a problem with it. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Be patient and pleasant like you would be with anyone; this is not you forcing the artist to do anything. But do insist on a signed agreement.

Changes

You might want to make changes to a design. You can spell those out in the contract. Should the artist charge you for any changes? They might; make sure all of that is in writing. See why it’s a good idea to know pretty much what you want before you start? It could come in handy for, say, an agreement that the first three changes are free.

Working With a Cover Artist Means Payments

Don’t pay it all up front, and don’t agree to do so. If you are absolutely, flat-out broke, you should still be able to pay something, even if the artist hand waves and doesn’t want anything for their work. Be good to your conscience and at least ask if you can make a small donation to one of their three favorite charities.

Otherwise, payments should be as specified in the agreement. Are they in dollars, Euros, bitcoins? Do you pay with a check, a credit card, Paypal, or something else? When is the first payment due? What percentage of the total is due at the time? What’s the mechanism for getting a refund if things don’t work out?

Recommendations

Do you absolutely love your cover? Or do you dislike it but still think the artist is great (e. g. sometimes our visions can clash)? Then find out where and how to recommend them, whether it’s a recommendation on LinkedIn or a review on Yelp. And be sure to tell your writer friends, too!

Be good to your cover artist, and they will reward you many times over.

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Career changing Covers Legal

Working With a Cover Artist, Part 1

Let’s Look at Working With a Cover Artist

Have you ever worked with a cover artist?

It is like any business relationship, or it should be. Respect your cover artist, and they will help you. Don’t, and beware!

Get an Idea of What You Want Before You Start

covers cover design fonts
So, which fonts are on the covers in your genre?

So the last thing a cover artist wants to hear is, “Surprise me!” When they ask you how you envision your cover, you need to have an idea. One of the best ways to get such ideas is to browse Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even your local bookstore. Look at the typical covers in your genre. Are they natural-looking? Industrial? Hand-drawn?

What are the predominant colors? Black and white? Green? Pink? Red? Something else? So are they angular, or are the shapes softer and more muted?

Use care!

Now we have all heard or read the expression, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Except that it’s absolutely untrue. We do judge books by their covers. All. The. Time.

Do Your Cover Artist a Favor and Do Some Research

If the covers in your genre’s section of the bookstore are all orange, should your cover be orange, too? It’s hard to say. You want it to look like it belongs in that section, right? But you also want it to stand out. I would say, if you are a new author and you are predominantly selling online, you need to consider how your work is going to look when it’s shown with others in the genre.

Perform an Amazon or Barnes & Noble search for your genre, and for any keywords related to your plot. If your book is a children’s work about a super-ocelot named Clive (please don’t steal this work. I suddenly have a wicked plot bunny ping-ponging around my head), then you could search under children’s works and then under superheroes or animal stories, etc.

It might even be helpful to take a screenshot, print it and then consider images which would fit in and images which would stand out.

Your Name

So, your name is probably not going to be recognizable to most people. While it is an important part of the cover, it might be better for the artist to make the title stand out more.

Cover Artist Contracts!

Oh, and another thing – be sure to have a written agreement with this person. Even something relatively informal, signed by both of you, is better than nothing. But why? Because you’re exchanging money for labor. And that means, sometimes, people sue.

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Career changing Legal

Why you can’t charge for fanfiction

Why you can’t charge for fanfiction

I enjoy fanfiction as much as, perhaps, the next person. But you still can never, ever charge for it. I implore you: don’t even try.

Seriously, put it out of your mind.

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Copyright and fanfiction
Copyright and fanfiction often collide

But aren’t there exceptions?

Yes, there are some. But first, let’s talk about why fan fiction is problematic.

Issues With This Form of Expression

For writers like you and me – and Stephen King and JK Rowling as well – we prepare our own universes. Some universes are familiar and take any number of real-life elements. For example, King’s The Stand mainly takes place in more or less present-day America. King does not run into any copyright issues with New York City being New York City. Other places in the book, though, are more the product of his imagination. In Rowling’s Harry Potter universe, though, a lot more of the scene is dreamt up by her.

For both authors, and for countless others, originality consists of creating a universe, creating characters, devising a plot, and then executing the plot in some fashion.

In fan fiction, another person (or persons) created the universe and the characters. Even when the fanficcer adds characters, the fictional world remains the original author’s creation. Hence one of the main issues with fan fiction is that it keeps the fanficcer from learning how to do that.

Benefits of Fanfiction

It’s not all bad, of course. The biggest and most measurable benefit is that it keeps you writing. Creativity is often sparked by simply being creative, that is, you write five or seven days per week, and you can fill up that writing time fairly readily. But if you only write three times per month, you may find you have writers’ block when you make the infrequent attempt. There is something about the pressure of deadlines or at least the pressure of your own internal expectations. It helps to not have a blank page to stare at all the time.

There is nothing whatsoever wrong with borrowing another’s universe in order to keep writing and exercising the creativity muscle.

Just don’t try to sell it.

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Career changing Covers Legal

Working with covers

Working with covers

Covers! Let’s say you aren’t working with a cover artist. Or maybe you are doing the covers work, and you have purchased the work and been given full rights to it, to do with it as you please. Or maybe your work is not selling, and you are looking to make your own cover or covers (perhaps with a unified theme). Not to worry.

Adventures in Career Changing | Fonts and Covers | Janet Gershen-Siegel
Let’s Check out Fonts and Covers

Making Your Own Covers (10 rules)

So you might find that this is the way to go. Also, this can be an option if you are a decent photographer or cannot afford a cover artist. However, seriously consider a cover artist just the same. Or try Fiverr if you’re really stuck!

But let’s say you are bound and determined to create your own cover art.

Some tips

  1. First of all, do yourself a favor, and use a program designed for this purpose. This means Adobe Photoshop or Adobe InDesign, or Gimp. Please don’t use Paint. This is because you just won’t have the options you would with these other programs I’ve listed.
  2. Go simple. Why? Because busy covers look terrible online, and they usually don’t look so hot in bookstores, either. Consider a main element from your story and go with that as your image. The Twilight novels use this to stunning effect.

Use the right images

  1. Use images which you have permission to use, always! Just because you can right-click on an image does not mean you have permission to use it! Here are three ways to assure you have permission to use an image:
    • Take the picture yourself.
    • Buy it from someone! Also, don’t forget to have a written agreement with them for usage.
    • Get it from a friend or relative who has taken it. Yet again: don’t forget to have a written agreement with them for usage.
  2. Don’t use a model unless you get a model release.

Working with images

  1. Make the image big! Scaling it down is possible. Scaling it up will result in a loss of quality.
  2. Consider what the image will look like if it any part of it is cut off. This is another argument in favor of simplicity.
  3. Consider what the image will look like on mobile devices.
  4. Never, ever use the word ‘by‘ unless you are referring to an ‘edited by‘ line. Otherwise, just use your name as the author name.

Fonts and verbiage

  1. If the title is in serif font, use sans-serif for your name, and vice versa, unless you are using the exact same font. E. g. don’t use two different serif fonts. They’ll look mismatched.
  2. Also, make sure your verbiage (title and author name) is readable! This means size and color, and sometimes outlining. Usually it helps if your image is more or less all one color or at least one color tint, tone, or shade. That, is make it all bright or all pastel or all muted, as that will make it easier for the verbiage to stand out and be readable.

Finally, practice! You aren’t going to turn out a great cover without knowing your program well.

You can do it!

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Career changing Covers Legal

Creative commons

Creative Commons and Whether You Can Use Certain Images

What is Creative Commons?

Their story is best told by them:

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.

But this is not copyright! Instead, the concept exists to work with copyright, in order to help you refine the rights in your work. Also, it can work to help you understand the nuances of rights in others’ works. But which others? Cover artists and songwriters, to name two.

Can I use all of the images I find online?

Absolutely not. Just because you can right-click an image or take a screenshot does not mean you have the right to just take it. And do not get me started on wiping off someone else’s photographic watermark.

Just don’t do it. Don’t be a jerk.

Currently, CC specifies six separate types of licenses. So be sure to click and read the specifics!

  • Attribution CC BY – this is the most open of the licenses. It allows others to do nearly anything to a creative work.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA – this one is similar to CC BY. Except, it requires you attribute to the original artist. Wikipedia uses this one!
  • Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND – you can pass along the work. However, you can’t alter it. And you must credit the creator.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC – you can alter the original work, but you must credit the original artist. Furthermore, you can’t make any money from the work.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike CC BY-NC-SA – this one is the same as CC BY-NC. Except, you must license any new creations under identical terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND – this is the most restrictive license, allowing for sharing. But attribution is required. Also, you cannot make any changes. Further, the sharer can’t make any money off the creative work.
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Career changing Legal

A crash course in copyright law, part 3 (exceptions)

A crash course in copyright law, part 3 (exceptions)

What are some exceptions to copyright infringement cases?

So, when is it all right?

Purdue University offers a terrific and very readable summary of the main known exceptions to copyright infringement claims.

Note: the law changes in every area. This blog is no substitute for talking directly with an experienced copyright attorney!

Fair Use

For the fair use defense, Purdue outlines four basic factors:

Purpose and character

Some specifics favor fair use. These include nonprofit, educational, and personal usages. Plus there are those representing a potential tipping point. These include teaching, research, scholarship, criticism, commentary, and news reporting. And there are those which favor needing permission. These include commercial, entertainment, and for-profit uses. That is, a nonprofit’s research is more likely to be fair use than a for-profit enterprise’s commercial use. Hence the for-profit enterprise should seek the copyright holder’s permission.

Nature of work

To favor fair use, it should be a fact and/or published. But to favor needing permission, it should be a fiction and/or unpublished. E. g. It’s more likely to be fair use if you repeat a published fact about dinosaurs. Whereas you more likely need permission when it’s an unpublished novel about vampires.

Amount

Small and insignificant instances of copying are more likely to be fair use than large ones representing a work’s heart. As a result, those are more likely to require permission. That is, if I copy the character of Millicent Bulstrode, then the character is minor and small. However, this does not necessarily mean JK Rowling won’t sue me. Copying Hermione Granger is another matter entirely.

Market Effect

You’re more likely to be in the fair use realm if:

  • Licensing/permissions are unavailable or there is no major impact,
  • There is limited/restricted access to the work, or
  • The user or institution owns a legal copy.

But it’s different if there is a major impact, or licensing/permissions are readily available. Or the work has worldwide availability, or there is repeated or long-term use. Then the scale slides to requiring permission. Profit and sales are not an element to this cause of action. Although selling the copied article, particularly multiple instances of it, can place the act into the ‘requires permission’ camp.

Face to Face Instruction

According to Purdue,

The traditional classroom or face-to-face instruction is when the instructor and the students of a nonprofit educational institution are in a place devoted to instruction and the teaching and learning take place at the same time. In this setting all performances and displays of a work are allowed.

Requirements:

  1. All materials must be legally acquired.
  2. Teaching activities must take place in a classroom or a similar place devoted to instruction.

Virtual Instruction

Similar to the face-to-face instruction allowance, virtual instruction generally gets a pass, according to Purdue University. However, there are some specifics, such as the class must be a regular offering in the curriculum.

What about Parody?

The American Bar Association notes the United States Supreme Court treats parody and satire separately. But the ABA feels it’s a distinction without much of a difference. Both are mockery. However, satire is often more like commentary than outright mimicry. For the ABA, and particularly when a work has both elements, the difference matters less. Although copyright holders might be more inclined to license satire rather than parody. This is because parody is pretty much a knockoff by definition.

Commentary generally falls under fair use. That commentary can be amusing or not, satirical or not. Copying generally isn’t fair use, but amusement and exaggeration blurs that line.

The best advice I can give you is: don’t make your work into a copyright test case.

In other words: be original!

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Career changing Legal

A crash course in copyright law, part 2

A crash course in copyright law, part 2

Want to learn more about copyright law?

How about infringement?

We are artists and that means we are copyright holders, even if we never assert our rights and never file with the copyright office. According to American copyright law, you own it if you made it. You don’t have to mail it yourself.

Infringement

However, I will only talk about American law. If you assert copyright in another country, the law will most likely differ. Furthermore, if you have any questions, ask me in the comments section. I will try to research and answer you in a timely fashion. Or ask a copyright attorney. This area, like many areas of the law, has nuances and there can be changes. This blog is no substitute for good advice from an experienced lawyer. If you think you need to protect your rights, then do so properly. And that means hiring an attorney.

The United States Code

According to Title 17 of the United States Code:

§ 501. Infringement of copyright

(a) Anyone who violates any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner as provided by sections 106 through 122 or of the author as provided in section 106A(a), or who imports copies or phonorecords into the United States in violation of section 602, is an infringer of the copyright or right of the author, as the case may be. For purposes of this chapter (other than section 506), any reference to copyright shall be deemed to include the rights conferred by section 106A(a).

As used in this subsection, the term “anyone” includes any State, any instrumentality of a State, and any officer or employee of a State or instrumentality of a State acting in his or her official capacity. Any State, and any such instrumentality, officer, or employee, shall be subject to the provisions of this title in the same manner and to the same extent as any nongovernmental entity.

But what the heck does that all mean?

The American Bar Association explains it better. It publishes a Young Lawyers series intended to help newly minted lawyers understand the nuances of complicated sections of practice. So the ABA explains:

An action for copyright infringement may arise where a third party violates one or more of the exclusive rights granted to copyright owners.  To establish infringement, the plaintiff must prove:  “(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.”

Ownership of a valid copyright consists of:  “(1) originality in the author; (2) copyrightability of the subject matter; (3) a national point of attachment of the work, such as to permit a claim of copyright; (4) compliance with applicable statutory formalities; and (5) (if the plaintiff is not the author) a transfer of rights or other relationship between the author and the plaintiff so as to constitute the plaintiff as the valid copyright claimant.”  A copyright registration certificate from the Copyright Office serves as prima facie evidence of elements (1) through (4).  If the defendant rebuts the plaintiff’s prima facie evidence, then the above elements of valid copyright ownership become essential to the plaintiff’s case.

So what is the ABA is saying? Registration with the US Copyright office isn’t necessary to successfully bring an infringement claim. But it’s awfully helpful.

If you think your work might be infringed upon, if you feel it is a danger and you are concerned about it, then get some peace of mind and register it with the US Copyright Office.

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Career changing Legal

A crash course in copyright law, part 1

A crash course in copyright

It’s time for a crash course in copyright law. Don’t worry; no one is going to make you practice law.

Seriously, you’re good.

Me, on the other hand? I’m a retired lawyer, admitted to the New York state bar, 1986. I never worked in the copyright field. However, I have read plenty about it, and of course I have my own legal training and experiences to fall back on. If you have questions, I will try to answer them. Or contact a copyright attorney if you know one, and ask! Your questions won’t offend me.

Disclaimer

Do not infer or imply representation. If you’ve got a copyright issue, and you’re defending, or you think you should bring a lawsuit, I urge you to get legal representation as soon as possible.

American Copyright Law

For the purposes of these blog posts, I will only look at American law. The law differs outside the United States, it will be different. Copyright law is Federal, so jurisdiction rests with the Federal courts. It is a civil matter; no one goes to jail for copyright infringement.

Copyright Search

The United States Copyright Office exists as a part of the Library of Congress, founded in 1870. Want to find out if something has a copyright? Click here and be sure to select Other Search Options. If you think your search will pull up a lot of records, select 100 records per page from the pull-down menu to the left. Make sure to be as specific as possible, but you might need to go less specific in order to be truly diligent. For example, a search for Sally Field’s character, Sister Bertrille, might not bring up anything. A search for Bertrille might give you something, but a better search would be for the television program the character comes from, The Flying Nun. Here’s the copyright for the theme song to that series.

But most people could guess that Field’s role or at least the series has or had some form of copyright. But what, exactly, is copyright?

The Elements of Copyright

According to the US Copyright Office,

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works.

Per Section 106 of the Copyright Act of 1967, a copyright holder can:

  • reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords
  • prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending
  • perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work
  • perform the work publicly (in the case of sound recordings) by means of a digital audio transmission

Hence copyright holders have any number of rights in their own works. Can they allow others to use them? Absolutely! We call that a license.

When do copyrights expire?

Not surprisingly, the US Copyright Office has something to say about that.

Works Created on or after January 1, 1978 The law automatically protects a work that is created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression on or after January 1, 1978, from the moment of its creation and gives it a term lasting for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years.

and …

Works in Existence but Not Published or Copyrighted on January 1, 1978 The law automatically gives federal copyright protection to works that were created but neither published nor registered before January 1, 1978. The duration of copyright in these works is generally computed the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: life plus 70 years or 95 or 120 years, depending on the nature of authorship. However, all works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. The law specifies that in no case would copyright in a work in this category have expired before December 31, 2002. In addition, if a work in this category was published before that date, the term extends another 45 years, through the end of 2047.

What does this mean? Well, the short answer is that you generally do better to publish your work! After all, you can’t expect anyone to guard against copying it if they don’t know it exists. The other important takeaway: you don’t need to assert copyright or mail it yourself or anything like that. Does it help to register your work? Absolutely! If you ever doubt have concerns, do the legwork (or have your lawyer do so), and register your work.

More of the crash course later ….